You might have heard that a certain big-name design museum is coming to Dundee later this year. The architecturally stunning V&A will indeed open its doors on Dundee’s waterfront in September, offering an exciting programme of exhibitions and events – but there’s so much more to the Dundee & Angus region than one long-awaited museum. Here are seven more reasons you should travel to this unsung corner of Scotland now.
Scott and Shackleton’s very first expedition to the Antarctic was aboard a ship built in Dundee. This was the RRS Discovery and she still sits on the waterfront here today, her trio of masts standing sentry over the V&A next door. Clambering aboard is a sobering moment – it’s hard to believe this slender wooden ship took 48 men, 23 howling dogs and 45 terrified sheep south to Antarctica in 1901 in temperatures as low as minus 45 degrees. Don’t miss Discovery Walk just outside, a series of 10 bronze plaques in the revamped waterfront that celebrate Dundee’s gifts to the world – among them the Dandy and Beano.
Alongside the V&A, there is plenty in Dundee to keep art lovers occupied. The city hosts the country’s only permanent acting ensemble, the Dundee Rep, for a start. They share their home with the Scottish Dance Theatre and there’s a year-round calendar of world-class events. Practically next door is the DCA, Dundee Contemporary Arts. Check out the temporary exhibitions here or pop in for a screening of an arthouse film. Every Dundonian’s favourite arts space, though, has to be the McManus, a glorious sandstone Victorian Gothic building dedicated to the region’s treasures. Here you can sweep up the spiral staircase to galleries that are home to everything from ancient Pictish stones to the skeleton of the Tay Whale.
Dundee has a long, proud history of innovation. In Victorian times, the city was known for the three Js – jute, jam and journalism. For “jam”, read marmalade, supposedly invented locally. For journalism, think D.C. Thomson, the Dundee printer and publisher. As for jute – a vegetable fibre used to make hessian, tarpaulin and rope – you can delve into its Dundee heritage for yourself at Verdant Works. This beautifully refurbished jute mill tells the story of the city’s time as “juteopolis”, the world’s capital of jute production. Note that innovation is not a thing of the past here, either – the computer game Grand Theft Auto was invented by Dundonians and the city is a gaming hub to this day.
Edinburgh might be the only Scottish city to hold a Michelin star (or four) but Dundee holds its own when it comes to inventive modern cuisine. In the city centre, the best place to eat is Castlehill, where chef Graham Campbell makes the very best of Scotland’s larder. Think Shetland scallops with cauliflower and caramel and Highland venison served with a Douglas fir jus. Just across the Tay in Newport, former Masterchef: The Professionals winner Jamie Scott changes his tasting menu at The Newport Restaurant daily. Small plates are the thing here and since they start at £3.50, you can afford to be adventurous. Coley marinated in Scottish tequila, avocado and blood orange, perhaps?
The warm red sandstone ruins of Arbroath Abbey are more than just the bones of a grand 12th-century monastery – this is hallowed ground. In 1320 a document was written here that boldly laid out Scotland’s intention to forever be independent from England. The Declaration of Arbroath is regarded as Scotland’s birth certificate and was an inspiration for the American Declaration of Independence. This legacy led the four students who, in 1950, stole the Stone of Destiny (on which all Scottish kings were crowned) from Westminster Abbey to return the stone to Arbroath Abbey.
One of Scotland’s very best castles is in the heart of Angus. As the childhood home of the Queen Mother and fictional home of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Glamis Castle is associated with royalty both bone fide and imagined. But it is this 14th-century dame’s glorious architecture – all turrets and towers – and gorgeous gardens that really makes her so loveable. The interior has to be visited on a guided tour but it’s well worth the effort – you’ll hear stories aplenty about everyone from Mary Queen of Scots to Old Pretender James VIII and get to poke around the halls and royal apartments checking out ornate fireplaces and priceless paintings.
The Cairngorms National Park is Britain’s largest – some forty percent larger than the Lake District. Part of it lies in Angus, where five serene glens run down from the Cairngorms like the fingers of a hand. Perhaps the most spectacular is Glen Clova and one of the best easy walks here is the 3.5-mile hike to Loch Brandy from the village of Clova. A well-made path leads to a lofty loch cradled in a sheer-sided corrie. The glens are also home to some of Scotland’s less challenging Munros (mountains over 3000 feet). A local favourite combines Mayar with Driesh, ascending both in around five hours from Glen Doll. Look out for golden eagles here too.
Top image: Dundee panorama at dusk © DavidHowell/Shutterstock.